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Laura Burney Nissen

Macro social work has a long tradition of emphasizing planning. This array of practices typically looks at important intersections of community needs, resources, policies, and well-being—all of which combine to reflect, guide, and support the aspirations of groups, organizations, and communities. Futures thinking and foresight practice are an important emerging, but underutilized, set of ideas and tools available to macro-level social work practitioners and scholars to better navigate rapidly changing practice ecosystems. They have the ability to update and multiply traditional planning approaches. Futures thinking and foresight practice can have applications in numerous areas of practice, including (a) equity practice, (b) community practice, (c) organizational practice, and (d) government/policy practice. Social work ethics is likely to continue adapting to the changing world.


Kelly McNally Koney and Darlyne Bailey

Polarizing conversations and “othering” are becoming norms in individual and organizational discourse, while social, political, economic, and cultural issues—and solutions to manage them—are recognized as increasingly interconnected. Interorganizational alliances (IAs) are one means through which social workers can leverage collective resources toward just and common ground. As systems, policies, and contexts continue to drive the coalescing of organizations into IAs, social workers have an important role to play. All IAs fundamentally operate to address emergent issues. Understanding the ways organizations come together, the circumstances that drive them, and factors that contribute to their success is essential for maximizing results. IAs vary along a continuum, ranging from loosely connected to structurally unified, and can be broadly understood by the processes that underlie them. No position on the continuum is better (or worse) than another. Their evolution is dynamic, greatly shaped by relational factors such as leadership styles, organizational cultures, and the goals of those who will be affected. Regardless of whether organizational participants align for internal, operational gain or to better address issues raised within their environment, IAs must clearly identify all who are intended to benefit. In so doing, they must consciously analyze historic interactions, recognizing patterns of discrimination and oppression and establishing systems and narratives that center previously marginalized voices. Only in this way can IAs advance a just and equitable future. Given appropriate preparation through macro education, social workers are well situated for this work.


John Halloran and Fred Wulczyn

Extending social work’s familiarity with the metaphorical use of systems concepts, formal systems science enables macro social workers pathways of understanding and description of system-level behavior. Systems, in a formal sense, are coherently organized and interconnected sets of parts that, when operating together, perform a function. The behaviors of complex systems are not reducible to the behavior of individual components, and behaviors of systems are unique to the system as a whole. We introduce a formal approach to systems thinking, provide an overview of central concepts in complex systems analysis, and conclude with an in-depth example of an agent-based simulation model, which puts complex systems thinking into action in a research and practice context.